The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
How we cite our quotes:
Those lands had changed much since the days when dwarves dwelt in the Mountain, days which most people now remembered only as a very shadowy tradition. They had changed even in recent years, and since the last news Gandalf had had of them. Great floods and rains had swollen the waters that flowed east, and there had been an earthquake or two (which some were inclined to attribute to the dragon – alluding to him chiefly with a curse and an ominous nod in the direction of the Mountain). The marshes and bogs had spread wider and wider on either side. Paths had vanished, and many a rider and wanderer too, if they had tried to find the lost ways across. The elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed on the advice of Beorn now came to a doubtful and little used end at the eastern edge of the forest; only the river offered any longer a safe way from the skirts of Mirkwood in the North to the mountain-shadowed plains beyond, and the river was guarded by the Wood-elves' king. (10.4)
Bilbo's luck is so very good that he manages to find the only road that would have been possible out of Mirkwood: the river out of the Wood-king's palace. Even Gandalf can't predict that the "great floods and rains" have swallowed "the elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed." So, at this stage in their adventure, even good advice is not enough to make travel predictable or safe. In a sense, this is the moment when Bilbo and the dwarves truly begin to explore, when they go off the path into genuinely unknown space.
They all fell silent: the hobbit standing by the grey stone, and the dwarves with wagging beards watching impatiently. The sun sank lower and lower and their hopes fell. it sank into a belt of reddened cloud and disappeared. The dwarves groaned, but still Bilbo stood almost without moving. The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through a rent in the cloud. A gleam of light came straight through the opening into the bay and fell on the smooth rock-face. The old thrush, who had been watching from a high perch with beady eyes and head cocked on one side, gave a sudden trill. There was a loud crack. A flake of rock split from the wall and fell. A hole appeared suddenly about three feet from the ground [...]
Then Thorin stepped up and drew the key on its chain from round his neck. He put it to the hole. It fitted and it turned! Snap! The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky. (11.32-7)
Again, we have to be amazed by Bilbo's luck: he happens to be standing near the side door when the thrush indicates that now is the time: it's Durin's Day, and the secret keyhole is about to be revealed! We do sometimes feel that the lengths the novel goes to make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time – the Eagles that save Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves from the goblins, the thrush that indicates that it is Durin's Day, to name a few more – are a bit much to believe. Should we forgive The Hobbit its farfetched plot twists because it's a fantasy novel? Do we allow more license to fantasy fiction about things like cause and effect because of the nature of the genre? Does The Lord of the Rings ever also seem contrived, or is it just The Hobbit?
[Bilbo] had many hardships and adventures before he got back. The Wild was still the Wild, and there were many other things in it in those days besides goblins; but he was well guided and well-guarded – the wizard was with him, and Beorn for much of the way — and he was never in great danger again. (18.57).
Why do we hear nothing of Bilbo's adventures traveling with Gandalf and Beorn on the way back west? Are you curious about what happens to Bilbo on the road home, or does the pacing seem right to you?